Should you Manage your Product Information Taxonomy In a TMS or a PIM System?

It’s a very open question … as they always are … and it depends on the weighting of some of the considerations we’ll look at below.

We’re working with a client right now – a manufacturer who is a definite success story in both the technologies they sell and also in online B2B (and also e-procurement) – on re-platforming their whole content supply chain, from incoming supplier’s product information all the way through to web and web search presentation.  They have business needs for multiple taxonomies that will support appropriate content description enrichment and multiple, successful, findability pathways for customers.

Managing Product Information from Suppliers

Because they manufacture, and also sell consumables and other items from 3rd party partners, they own, alongside all major companies who ingest product information from suppliers, the business challenge of managing all aspects of product information that enters their content supply chain.  Many, many challenges – product information “cleansing”,  normalization, outputting product attributes to their own publishing standards, building rules to catch exceptions in attribute value ranges and attribute value co-relationships etc.

And then … there is the product taxonomy – the hierarchy of products in “families” that their product managers need to maintain.  The reason that we have this question – “where are you going to maintain this product hierarchy?” – is that Product Information Management (PIM) systems mostly all have capability to manage taxonomy, i.e. product hierarchy.  And indeed, as an aside, so too do applications one step upstream from PIM; Oracle PDQ, as one exemplar, manages product hierarchy robustly at the data-cleansing stage. 

So … let’s count on our fingers (old fashioned I know) the complexity.  Our large manufacturer is going to manage product taxonomy and multiple other business-essential taxonomies.  They are re-platforming their total content supply chain … so vendor selection includes PIM (Product Information Management), e-commerce, CMS (content management system), TMS (taxonomy management system) and DAM (digital asset management).  As well as the whole back-end ERP ecosystems integration and a front end of dynamic web site, first class site search and parallel first-class e-procurement.

Requirements Considerations and Trade-offs with TMS

TMS or PIM for the product taxonomy?  In a complex content supply chain, that depends … on very surgical and precise analysis.  Of?  Dataflows, workflows, actors (with very, very different needs that need to work in unison as the technology will do), successful governance, and the UX of customers.  And more.

For this client we did compare PIM vendors and their taxonomy management capabilities with enterprise taxonomy management systems – using our own taxonomy comparison requirements matrices.  And we also holistically looked at taxonomy dataflows, taxonomy workflows, the business needs of all actors who interact with “their” product taxonomy, derived from the canonical, source-of-truth product taxonomy, and governance.  Several decision facets were quite clear.  Different actors who work with product taxonomy have very different business needs and should they all be “forced” to work in the same application?  Product managers, from a taxonomy point of view, have very different needs (and tasks and outcomes) from product marketers … and from the financial group who utilize product taxonomy in their business intelligence.  Dataflows and architecture are synergistic … and that impacts also what to do with taxonomy.  Product taxonomy is not the only taxonomy in play here.  Far from it (remember description enrichment and findability?).

The Taxonomy Management Solution

We walked shoulder to shoulder with this client and … product taxonomy was to be managed (canonically) in the PIM we assisted them in selecting.  All other taxonomies were to be managed in a TMS we assisted them in selecting.    The PIMs we looked at just did not have all the rich taxonomy functionality needed to support all the content enrichment and content choreography this client needed from taxonomy.  And all taxonomies were to be propagated through the content supply chain from the TMS.  It is a better practice to propagate taxonomy into a complex content supply chain from one “hub” – a TMS – rather than from multiple taxonomy hubs.

Final Thoughts - Guidelines for those Considering Similar Initiatives

No one solution is the same for all.  Analyze (weighted) it through.  Be (very) open to non-standard solutions.  The key really for this client, and for any group undertaking similar content supply chain initiatives, is to be crystal clear on dataflows and actors and their content choreography tasks (that all need to mesh together in sequence).  Taxonomy dataflow is complex in a complex content supply chain. 

Meet the Author
Earley Information Science Team

We're passionate about managing data, content, and organizational knowledge. For 25 years, we've supported business outcomes by making information findable, usable, and valuable.